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Routes in Keeler Needle

Harding Route T 5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b
WNW Edge T 3rd 1- 1 I 1 M 1a
Type: Trad, Alpine, 2000 ft, 22 pitches, Grade V
FA: Warren Harding, Desert Frank, et al
Page Views: 16,833 total, 129/month
Shared By: 426 on Mar 5, 2007
Admins: Chris Owen, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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Access limited from May to October every year Details


One of the jewels of the Sierra in terms of location, aesthetics and difficulty.

One of Peter Croft's "Big Four Free Climbs" of the High Sierra (see Peter's book here).

Bring your best wide/flare game if you expect to free it. 10+ at 13,500 is not an easy task.

Pitch 1: Start from the sandy ledges on top of the snowfield (see topo). Go up a clean finger/hand crack and traverse left under a small overhang (5.9). There are fixed slings just above the roof. Set the belay here or go left and up (5.7) and set the belay on a good ledge below a wide crack/chimney.

Pitch 2: Climb the crack into a steep alcove covered with an overhang (some rotten rock in the crack). Climb the overhang (5.10b, #1-3 camalots), continue and set up a belay using two old bolts.

Pitch 3: Climb the overhanging double cracks (5.10b, #1-2 camalots), continue up (5.7-8). Just below the rap slings go right around the arete and up into an uncomfortable alcove below a steep wide crack.

Pitch 4: Climb the fun wide crack which eventually turns into a 5.10a off-width. Pull the crux at the chockstone and end the pitch at a wide ledge. This pitch could be protected with small and medium nuts and cams. Wide gear (#4, #4.5 cams) is useful, though.

Pitch 5: Go up and right on a 5.6 terrain and set up belay on the right end of the ledge. You should see the Red Dihedral from here.

Pitch 6: Climb initial class 5 ledges and short 5.8 cracks into the sloping ledge at the beginning of Red Dihedral (some fixed gear). Pitch 5 and 6 could be simul-climbed.

Pitch 7: Red Dihedral. This is the most spectacular pitch on the climb. Long, sustained, and well protected 5.10a. Climb this pitch all the way to the ledge at the base of a wide flare (great site for bivy). Medium nuts, double on #1, #2 cams.

Pitch 8: Crux. Begin in a hand crack to the right and after 20 feet traverse left into a flare. Go up 5.10c off-width . It's possible to place medium gear inside the flare but the inner cracks are rotten so wide gear (up to #5 cam) is useful and assuring. The difficulties ease off to 5.8-9 after the three crappy bolts on the right. I would suggest setting a belay just above the flare, in a wide chimney. The rock here is solid. There's a good ledge higher up, on top of the chimney (supertopo indicates a belay there) but the rock quality there is crap.

Pitch 9: Climb the right wall of the chimney (5.8 medium cams), step left and finish on top of a curving chimney (5.8, loose).

Pitch 10: From here you will see tempting 5.7 cracks that go straight up. Don't go there. Start going diagonally right until you reach a ledge with boulders at the base of the final headwall. If you continue the 5.7 straight up cracks, you'll end up to the left of the ledge and will have to do a risky traverse right in suspect rock and with sparse gear (we did).

Pitch 11: Several options (see topo). The cleanest is climbing a distinct vertical 5.10a crack cutting the headwall. The easiest is going right and around the wall and climb loose class 5 up and then left. Set a belay where the 5.10a finishes.

Pitch 12: Make a short traverse right until under a system of cracks with a chimney to the right. Pitch 11 and 12 could be compressed to a single pitch by simul-climbing (on the easier option).

Pitch 14: Climb the 5.8 cracks to the ledge under the summit blocks.

Pitch 15: Climb or simul-climb the class 4-5 blocks to the summit.

This is a great and serious climb. Being on it feels like paying tribute to Warren Harding and his climbing legacy. The route can be done in 11 pitches with some simul-climbing. Also, we used crampons and fixed a rope on the snowfield the day before the climb. As of August '07, there were some fixed rap slings all the way to the base of Red Dihedral. The retreat from here could be done without losing much gear. Higher, the retreat becomes increasingly difficult.

We found Chris McNamara's description from Supertopo to be very accurate and useful. Some of the old pics from this description were linked to archives on the LA Mountaineers North American Classic website.


Many books and other resources will be better than this description.

Summit Mt. Whitney and go down the Muir route to descend.


Full rack. Crux flare takes some small gear. We had 2 #4 Camalots but you could easily get by with one.

Crux was very dirty circa '96. I mined out placements before the short bolt ladder.
Hey, Van Driver (as the Brits called you (and still do)). Great to see you weighing in. Cammo Aug 9, 2015
see above comments for beta and add this:

So many hand jams. Jun 18, 2015
D. Evans
Tustin, California
D. Evans   Tustin, California
Sibylle Hechtel and I did the second free ascent of this route in July 1977. We did 18 pitches in 9 hours, I led 15 and Sibylle led 3. It was one of my proudest days in the mountains!!!

I thought the FFA was in 1976 but Chris should know.

It was just a couple weeks before Richard Harrison and Jay Smith did the third free ascent.

I'm still kicking myself for not carrying a camera. Mar 27, 2015
Lots of great crack climbing on the proudest tower in the Sierra. Rock quality was better than expected. Both my partner and I thought that the last 10' of the P4 5.10a OW was significantly harder than the supposed enduro P8 5.10c OW crux. P8 was pretty casual, with hand jams in the back of the flare and occasional face holds/cracks. We brought both a single #4 and #5 camalot, and were glad to have them for many of the lower pitches. Jun 9, 2014
Eric and Lucie
Boulder, CO
Eric and Lucie   Boulder, CO
Really good route, I thought, despite the lackluster initial pitches.

We had a #4.5 Camalot and used it a lot, so I would highly recommend carrying a piece that size (#4.5 old style Camalot or #5 C4).

It is not needed for the crux pitch though. That pitch is very well protected with a variety of gear in the cracks inside the OW (which I found very solid).

The old bolts are alongside a section of the pitch where the climbing is much easier and more secure (5.9 chimneying moves). The 4.5 can be placed at one point in this section for backup, but I would not have felt unsafe without it. Aug 6, 2012
Just for historical purposes, Galen Rowell, Gordon Wiltse and I did the first free ascent of this route back in 1975(all nuts, of course). Galen, Warren Harding and Tim Auger did the first winter ascent sometime around 1970-71. Jul 14, 2011
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
Chris Owen   Big Bear Lake  
No problem Cameron - I've just updated the link to the book. Yeah, it is a wild list but I like to mix it up with a bit of history. Sep 5, 2008
Mike   Phoenix
What a stellar route! An aesthetic line on a huge chunk of rock in a spectacular location that just begs to be climbed. Jul 25, 2008
flagstaff, AZ
markguycan   flagstaff, AZ
large gear is not necessary, the crux pitch is easily protected by tcu's, nuts and hand sized cams. the pitons down low are good shape, the lowest of the 3 star drive bolts looks pretty bad but is level with a good 1" tcu placement. I lead up thru the 5.8 chimney above the crux and found that I had both my #4 and #5 at the end of the pitch. the #4 was useful elsewhere on the route but not mandatory. As far as OW goes this route really is not too bad as face holds allow you to avoid thrutching. reccomend: singles to #.75 camalot then doubles to #3 & 1 #4. probably 6 shoulder length slings and 4 QD's. we enjoyed the sunset from the summit- so a headlamp is a must for the descent down the mountaineers route of Whitney. Jul 14, 2008
Thanks for including our book in that really wild list of classic books, some of which are decades old. When Steve Porcella and I did the route, it was in the old days, when we were in shape and the pitches flew by. Six hours round-trip, if I remember correctly. Cam Apr 14, 2008
Yes, thanks. This was my first alpine rock climb eons ago, probably the most memorable but least rememberable. Mark Rogers "connived" me into doing it, knowing he could sandbag me into leading the horrific sections. I remember weird stuff like throwing in a cam between ice and rock on the first pitch and trying to sip water from a seep at the top (we were out) but very little about the individual pitches. Too many fried brain cells from the altitude I suppose-my first time above 14k. Raja, drop a line... Apr 13, 2008
Kris Gorny

Kris Gorny    
Thanks Brad. For routes like this one writing descriptions is fun. Nov 21, 2007
Great description Kris. Nov 16, 2007
TR with some beta here:… Sep 24, 2007
Kris Gorny

Kris Gorny    
Kris your route description has been moved into the route properties verbatim. Thanks for a great job.

Chris Owen Aug 23, 2007